Signage is a powerful visual tool for communication and a crucial component of the library user experience. Signage can welcome, guide, instruct, and delight users, helping them navigate the complex information world of any library. In practice, however, signage can be problematic, revealing tensions between various stakeholders, and contributing to visual noise through information overload; this often leads to signage blindness, library anxiety, and confusion. This article explores how libraries can use a design-thinking approach to improve the user experience in physical library spaces, particularly with respect to signage, based on our experience at the UTS Library, a university library in Australia that serves the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). We found that a design-thinking approach that uses the processes of empathy, problem definition, solution ideation, prototyping, and testing, can help libraries make significant and meaningful changes that can be adopted at relatively low cost.
Collecting data about where people are and what they are doing is an easy entry point into exploring the user experience of library space. This article examines projects at two academic libraries where space use data was collected multiple times per day for several months. The two projects were designed and carried out independently but had the same purpose: to better understand how students were using library spaces so that we could improve student experiences. Collecting space use data provided a baseline understanding of user behavior in these spaces. Similar to web analytics, this baseline can be useful on its own or used in conjunction with other forms of user research.
As professional anthropologists, we have been struck by the lack of concurrent support that this visible moment of ethnography in libraries has had in the form of full-time employment for ethnographers or embedded ethnography expertise in teams across the library staff, particularly, in contrast with increasing numbers of assessment and user experience oriented positions. In this article, we explore some of the reasons why we think libraries are stuck in a relatively unfinished ethnographic moment, one more accurately characterized as “ethnographish.”
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